| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Gadget geeks, used to booking hotel rooms way in advance for the annual Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, may be one-upped by lazier peers this January.
With just two months to go before the January 8-11 show, hotel rooms on the Strip are usually sold out by now. But this year, rooms are not only still available but rates are doing the improbable: falling.
It's too soon to tell whether the appeal of the world's biggest gadget fest has dimmed, but based on recent economic news, one real culprit is that space has been freed up by a slump in tourism in Sin City.
What is more, participating companies could be sending fewer workers.
The Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the show and represents the $160 billion industry, updated its website last week with this message: "Eight Official CES Hotels Reduce Rates During Show Dates."
"Many hotels are dropping their nightly rates, some as much as $75 a night," CEA said on its site.
CES usually locks down everything in Las Vegas, from hotel rooms to restaurants and cabs, as more than 100,000 people storm the city to admire the next big thing in technology, whether it be tiny phones or 150-inch TVs.
The four-day event is a pivotal showcase for more than 2,000 gadget makers from some 140 countries. In previous years it has been the platform where breakthrough products such as plasma TVs and Microsoft Corp's Xbox video game console first saw the light of day.
Wall Street financial analyst Shannon Cross said she heard prices were dropping and grabbed a room at developer Steve Wynn's newest resort hotel.
"It's been on my list to recheck prices in Vegas, because my reservation was pretty expensive," said Cross, who originally booked her stay in September. "I am going to cancel and rebook -- I'm taking advantage of bargain prices."
On the Strip, the Tropicana Las Vegas, operated by Tropicana Entertainment LLC, cut its peak rate by 17 percent to $179 a night, while the MGM Mirage's Monte Carlo's rate has fallen 12 percent to $240. That would be unheard of in past years, when those rooms would go for as much as $300.
To be sure, rooms carrying special CES rates at several high-end hotels, as well as those closest to the convention's main venues, are sold out, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. They include the Las Vegas Hilton, Venetian, and MGM Mirage's Mandalay Bay and Mirage.
Advanced registration for show is "looking good," according to a CEA representative.
However, large organizations -- which send dozens of staffers to man company booths and events, meet with retail buyers and peek at rival wares -- are certainly more mindful of travel budgets these days. They may reserve fewer rooms that week than they have in the past.
One major consumer electronics maker told Reuters that while it will still have a large contingent at the show, its planners are looking for ways to "streamline" manpower.
Earlier on Friday, Casino operator Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc reported a quarterly loss as the economic slowdown continued to hurt the gambling industry. Harrah's Entertainment, which operates seven Las Vegas resorts, blamed its poor results on "the economic upheaval weighing on the country."
And on Thursday, shares in Las Vegas Sands Corp, operator of the Venetian resort and the Sands Expo and Convention Center -- where much of CES takes place -- tumbled amid concerns about its ability to survive.
Stocks of casino operators have been punished over the past year as a gambling boom in Las Vegas has fizzled, and tight credit markets have jeopardized growth plans.
(Reporting by Franklin Paul, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)